Editor’s Note

Editor’s Note August 2019

It cannot be coincidental that Australia’s biggest cultural controversies in recent years have involved non-white sportsmen who “step out of line”. The sagas of Israel Folau and Adam Goodes are different in so many ways, but the similarities are instructive. Is this how we navigate our public debates, via the lives of our most prominent sportspeople?

As Malcolm Knox writes in The Monthly’s August issue, the Folau story “became a Rorschach test for culture warriors. [It] was whatever they wanted it to be. For the LGBTIQ community affected by personal experience of homophobia, it was about vilification and mental health. For a caravan of right-wing politicians, activists and opinion-shapers, it was about freedom of speech.” It involved sport and celebrity, contract law and social media, race and religion. Folau pressed “everyone’s nearest hot button”.

Before Folau, there was Adam Goodes, the AFL champion and former Australian of the Year who was booed by crowds around the country for two seasons, right up until the moment he retired, scorched by too much hurt and acrimony. As two new feature documentaries attest, Goodes didn’t abuse anyone, didn’t tell anyone they would go to Hell. His apparent crime was publicly defending himself against racism and asserting pride in his Aboriginality. His critics, led by convicted racist Andrew Bolt, and abetted by a clueless football media and a sluggish league administration, were incapable of or unwilling to accept Goodes’ freedom to express himself. “Put differently,” Sam Vincent writes in response, “when Andrew Bolt described Goodes’ war dance as a threat to reconciliation, he really meant that it was a threat to assimilation.”

Unlike Folau, Goodes was attacked for defending himself. It’s a sad irony that he was hounded into retirement while his most public critics, including Alan Jones, Eddie McGuire, Miranda Devine, Sam Newman, Paul Murray, Steve Price and countless ex-football-playing commentators, remain entrenched in their powerful positions.

What do we value, and who is expendable, in Australia today?

Contradictions abound. “The ark of Australian sport,” writes Knox, “finds room for all kinds of miscreants, often in multiples. It includes convicted rapists, thugs, derelict fathers and domestic abusers. There are confessed cheats of every stripe: drug cheats, match-fixers, problem gamblers, salary-cap swindlers … There is not much you can do that renders you unfit to travel in that vessel. But [in the case of Folau] here was a clean-living, happily married young man, a role model for children and a standard-bearer for his community, who was thrown out of Australian sport for paraphrasing sacred words from an ancient text.” Or spouting homophobia, depending on how you see it.

Nick Feik

Nick Feik is the editor of The Monthly.

@nickfeik

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